The decision to relax travel restrictions is necessary to open up the economy and ease the public’s financial burden, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) isaid on Tuesday, March 2.
DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya made the statement amid opposition from health experts and other political personalities that include Vice President Leni Robredo who backed the warning of the medical experts about easing up the travel restrictions due to the continuous threat from the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“The criticism over this decision is misplaced. When the Vice President said that it was the locally stranded individuals (LSI) who were responsible for the spread of COVID to the provinces, this was in the early days of the pandemic when our infection rates were high and compliance with minimum health standards were very low. A year later, compliance is now high, our active cases are low, and our people know what to do to protect themselves and their families,” said Malaya.
He noted that the IATF-MEID Resolution No. 101 providing for streamlined protocols across all local government units (LGUs) was crafted by the DILG in coordination with the Philippine National Police (PNP), Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP), League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) and the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP).
“First, we wish to clarify that the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test was never a requirement by the national government. It was some LGUs who required it. Now, under the new protocols, the PCR test may still be required by the LGU of destination. Therefore, travelers just need to check with their LGU if its required. But please take note that LGUs can only require the RT-PCR test and cannot require the Antigen or rapid tests as requirement for travel,” Malaya explained.
“As to the quarantine requirement, Malaya said that they consulted with the health professionals and they recommended that no traveler shall be required to undergo facility-based quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms upon arrival at the LGU of destination.
“Therefore, the health assessment of passengers or travelers supervised by medical professionals shall be mandatory upon entry in the port/terminal and exit at point of destination,” he added.
Malaya stressed that all localities, regardless if PCR tests are required or not, shall conduct clinical and exposure assessment at all points of entry and exit to ensure that only asymptomatic, non-close contact individuals are allowed to travel or move from one LGU to another.
Malaya also emphasized that with the travel regulations harmonized, minimum public health standards which include physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and wearing of face masks and face shields, among others, shall be strictly implemented by the PNP and local authorities.
Individuals classified as Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APORs) from national government agencies and attached agencies shall provide their identification card, travel order, and travel itinerary, and must pass symptom-screening at ports of entry and exit pursuant to IATF Resolution No. 98-A issued on February 4, 2021.
But Malaya pointed out that travelers still must accede to minimum health protocols reminding them to exercise discipline in adhering to physical distancing, personal hygiene, cough etiquette and wearing of face masks and face shields.
To allay public fears of the spike of the virus with the relaxed domestic travel protocols, Malaya stressed there should be no cause for fear as safeguards are in place to contain the disease.
The DILG official citing as an example in ports and terminals noted that sufficient quarantine facilities are placed in these areas.
A referral system must be in place wherein travelers who become symptomatic shall be transferred to quarantine or isolation facilities to enable the Bureau of Quarantine for airports, or local health officials in case of LGUs, to take over.
For Metro Manila, Malaya said that all buses bound for the provinces shall be required to use the Integrated Terminal Exchange as the central hub for transportation adding that no bus company or public transport shall be allowed to use their private terminals.
He added that the LGUs, at their discretion, may provide transportation for all travelers who are transiting from one LGU to another in cases of arrivals at air and seaports to their end-point destinations.
With these policies, Malaya maintained that the DILG saw the urgent need to remove redundancy in domestic tourist travel requirements and impose less stringent requirements by managing the health risks through other means.
He explained the need to streamline local regulations for domestic travel as well as recommend best options to encourage domestic travel for leisure to revive the heavily-hit travel and tourism sector and related industries while managing the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Citing figures from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Malaya said that quarantine restrictions put in place since March 2020 has caused a total income loss of P1.04 trillion that year.
On the average, Malaya noted that it translated to P2.8 billion in salaries lost — or an annual income loss of P23,000 per worker.
“We needed to streamline because we need to revive our economy and address the hunger, loss of jobs and economic opportunities that came as a result of the travel restrictions,” Malaya said.
He noted that 30 percent of the public still cannot go to work and 50 percent of the people cannot take public transport stressing that “people need to be able to commute to go to work or to earn a living.”
Malaya said that the domestic airline industry has also asked the DILG to address this issue since the local air carriers have accumulated a P47.4 billion net income loss as of September 2020 alone.
“Despite the reopening of major regional airports, the domestic airline industry has seen a slump in domestic passengers and domestic cargo carried due to fragmented LGU regulations compared to our ASEAN neighbors where Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have already revived their domestic travel industry to 2019 levels. If other countries can do it, why cant we?,” Malaya asked.